An unholy row over bus fares for school children in Sheffield

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ANGRY parents have accused Sheffield Council of discrimination after it announced plans to withdraw bus subsidies for children attending faith schools.

Protesters say the proposal – expected to save £275,000 a year – undermines parents’ rights to choose a school based on religious beliefs.

Bus services are subsidised for pupils who attended Catholic feeder schools or those travelling more than three miles.

It means the parents of around 1,000 youngsters in Sheffield could have to fork out at least £200 a year to get their children to school.

Pupils from all over Sheffield travel to the city’s two Catholic secondary schools – Notre Dame High School in Ranmoor, and All Saints in Norfolk Park.

Greg Freeman, of The Grove, Totley, said he would face a bill of £960 a year to get his two children to Notre Dame because they have to catch two buses.

He said: “To introduce this charge for our children when they have been at the school for a number of years is unjust. Withdrawing this support now is unfair in the extreme.”

Geoff Garratt, of Rosamond Drive, Totley, labelled it an ‘attack on Christianity’. “It will impact particularly on poorer parents and seriously affect attendance,” he said.

Kate Padfield, of Ringstead Avenue, Crosspool, has two boys and said the plan would cost her more than £400 a year.

She said: “This right to choose should not discriminate against families from a lower income bracket and families should not be penalised because they live further away.”

A joint statement from All Saints and Notre Dame headteachers said the proposal ‘undermines a long-held right for parents to choose a school on the basis of their religious beliefs’.

Finnuala Nelis, head of St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School, Sheffield Lane Top, accused the council of ‘blatant discrimination’.

She said: “No Catholic child should be denied a Catholic education solely because their parents cannot afford transport costs.”

The protest is backed by Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg. He said: “I am concerned about any proposals that will have a negative impact on families with low incomes.

“I am also concerned that this will remove the option for many families to have access to a Catholic school.”

Protesters also claim the consultation, which ends today, has been too short.
Coun Jackie Drayton, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for Children, blamed coalition cuts. She said: “What we are looking at is bringing Catholic children in line with all others in the city. The service is discretionary and had gone over and above our statutory requirements.

“We have been consulting with parents for the last month.”